Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Attention Washington shoppers! Spring’s fashion-themed fundraisers mean just one thing: Shopaholics can acquiesce to their base animal lust while helping local causes.

The March 18 District Sample Sale, the brainchild of Washington fashionistas, has become the place to shop and be seen shopping.

Its genesis reads like a fairy tale even “Confessions of a Shopaholic” author Sophie Kinsella could not concoct.

Liberty Jones, now public relations director for Neiman Marcus, was a boutique owner with an embarrassment of riches three years ago. Her dilemma? Too much end-of-season merchandise and too little room to store it.

Meanwhile, her friend Mary Amons, a charity fundraiser, was looking for “an alternative fundraising effort with a fashion focus.”

Ms. Jones assumed other boutique owners also had merchandise crammed in boxes and stored on open racks. Why not sell the merchandise at a fraction of the price, throw in some champagne and canapes, and earmark the proceeds for charity?

After a meeting to cobble together a plan in spring 2006 at the Peacock Cafe in Georgetown, a match made in charity heaven was born.

With the help of Jayne Sandman, Barbara Martin and Shannon Haley, the District Sample Sale was off, but not yet running.

“We had not a clue, but we had our ideas together,” Ms. Amons says.

The biggest obstacle was finding a venue.

“We wanted something urban, not too fancy, and a place that would give us a low overhead,” she says.

Ms. Amons ran into local real estate mogul Anthony Lanier at their children’s end-of-school-year picnic, where Ms. Amons, never one to let an opportunity slip away, “chatted him up about a place.”

Done and done.

Mr. Lanier has donated space for the event all three years. This year’s sale will be held at 3336 M St. NW.

“Anytime we can put some of our spaces toward a charitable use that additionally generates traffic for Georgetown, we are always delighted to do so, ” Mr. Lanier says.

The District Sample Sale is a social-agenda priority every spring and fall. Organizers bill the sale as “cocktails, charity and couture: the trifecta at the top of every D.C. fashionista’s agenda.”

Ms. Jones says what sets the District Sample Sale apart from other fashionable philanthropies is quality merchandise, but she points out that “the merchandise runs the gamut from urban to very Georgetown preppy.”

She says the sale is perfect for female bonding.

“It’s something to do with your girlfriends. You need a partner in crime to help you scope things out,” she says.

Among the area stores with treasures to scope are Harriet Kassman, Hysteria, Sangaree and Periwinkle.

In some cases, vendors sell their stock at nearly 90 percent off.

Ms. Sandman, a member of the sale’s “haute” committee, says with economic woes weighing down even the most zealous shoppers, the event provides a guilt-free experience.

“This season is a perfect storm for bargain shoppers. Because stores order so far in advance, and then there was a sharp economic downturn, it’s created record-high inventories. There will be discounts like never before. It’s a silver lining to these tough economic times. Add martinis, champagne and great music. You can’t miss it!”

The spring sale benefits a children’s charity, while a women’s charity is selected for the fall sale. The March 18 event will benefit Kid Power, a local nonprofit that offers arts, academic and community service programs for underserved children ages 7 to 14.

“This opportunity provides not only financial benefit to us but also a chance for D.C.’s most fashionable and influential to learn about our programming, which benefits the community as a whole, says Susanne Tortola, development director for Kid Power. “Through this event we spread the importance of arts, academic and service-learning to D.C. public school students.”

Ms. Amons says she expects to sell 800 $40 general admission tickets and 200 $100 VIP tickets. For information, visit

If that’s not enough shopping for a cause, on March 14 Uptown Girl Entertainment and are hosting an event at the Hilton Hotel in Silver Spring where shops including Hush Boutique, Traci Lynn and Cece St. Croix will be selling their end-of-season merchandise at recession-friendly prices.

The event will raise awareness and volunteers for Success in Style, a nonprofit organization that provides free business attire to low-income women who are interviewing for jobs.

Tickets may be purchased online for $15 at

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